Last-Minute Ways to Make This Thanksgiving Sweet for Kids (and Us)

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Photo: Tinkergarten

Last night, it hit me—three days to go, and I finally let myself feel who and how much will be missing from our Thanksgiving this year. After a good cry and a stuff-nosed night’s sleep, I woke up, looked at my kids and decided it was time to try to make the best of it. 

For many of us, Thanksgiving traditions are on pause this year. Even though one study showed that 40% of Americans say they’ll be attending a Thanksgiving of more than 10 people, 60% of us won’t. And many people in that 60% will be missing at least someone, if not multiple someones they hold dear. 

Having to choose between family togetherness and the safety of the people we most treasure is yet another heavy hit from the pandemic. But, as we learned with Halloween, new constraints, even ones that weigh heavy on our hearts, can force us to focus the parts of a holiday that truly matter. And, they can even inspire new, lasting traditions. 

No matter how or with whom you’re celebrating this Thanksgiving, here are some easy, last-minute ways to infuse it with a little extra meaning and connection:

1. Create “Thank You” Art. Put out art supplies and paper and start talking with kids about all the people you are thankful for. Include family you love, friends and even people in your neighborhood or community who add to your life in big or small ways. Make thank you cards or pictures for some of those people and help kids express why they feel gratitude towards each person. Deliver locally bound “thank you” art as part of your day, or address and mail them as soon as you can.

2. Make a Gratitude Pumpkin. Grab a pumpkin and use a marker to cover it with words and pictures expressing what you’re grateful for. Display in your home, reflect on it as a family, and keep adding to it. If your child is too young to write, welcome them to dictate their ideas to you or let them draw designs that make them feel thankful. 

Don’t have a pumpkin? Use any squash; draw or cut out a paper pumpkin; draw a simple turkey, then add a feather for each thing you’re grateful for; cut strips of paper and link them in a paper chain. 

3. Build a Thankful Tree. Create a family tree of thanks by securing a handful of sticks into a vase or bucket. Welcome everyone in the family to write or draw something they are thankful for on various paper leaves and hang them on the tree. Then, read them together at the dinner table. Read more about this activity here.

4. Get Outdoors. Build-in time to go for a walk, slow down, and just sense the world around you. If you have a lantern or even a flashlight handy, take an after-dinner lantern walk to experience that quiet beauty of night time outside. Nature is calming and gives us so much to marvel and feel grateful for. While you are walking, wonder about the Native people who have cared for the land.

5. Take a Virtual Turkey Trot. Exercise helps boost our moods, and sharing in a sporty activity can add fun to the day, too. Welcome everyone you know and love who likes to walk or run and commit to a certain distance, like a 5K, you’ll cover together virtually. Or, meet up for a safe, distanced run with nearby friends. To connect with loved ones far away, set up a group text to share photos of your start and finish, cheering each other on. Get kids involved too, adjusting the distance as needed.

6. Flood Your Family Feed with Love. On Thursday, kick-off a flood of love and gratitude with the family and friends you most hold dear. Start by sending a group text that reads something like this: 

“Hello, all! We want to start a chain of gratitude, sharing with each other all we are grateful. We’ll kick it off, and then you can reply with what you are thankful for to help keep the chain going!” 

Then, follow up with a text that includes quotes from you and your kids about what you’re most grateful for. Include text, videos or photos knowing each one will boost the spirits of everyone on the chain.

If you are careful about where and how you share photos of your kiddos, try a group text or other social platform like these.

7. “Grateful for You” Videos. Let your phone video camera roll as you film you and your kids talking about why you are grateful for someone special in your life. Asking kids why they are thankful for a Nana, an uncle, or a dear friend can inspire some of the sweetest footage—footage that will brighten that person’s Thanksgiving and become a treasured memory for all involved. It can help to prep little kids before you start to film by saying things like, “What are all of the special things Mimi does for us?” Or “What are some things we love most about Mimi—the things that make us thankful for her?” 

8. Get Together Online. During all of this, we are awfully lucky to have technology that allows us to come together virtually, bridging distances and viruses. It’s amazing, really. Pick a time on Thursday to get family and friends you’re missing on a video conference platform, and share some joy. Embrace the challenges and do your best to help the less tech-savvy, remembering that it’s really all about seeing one another and being together on the screen. 

If you want to spark conversation a bit, welcome people to share what they are grateful for. Ask folks what they are cooking for dinner. Tell favorite family stories or share a few holiday jokes. If your family has favorite songs, play them and dance or sing them out, even if the audio is wonky. Three cheers to Zoom for relaxing its 40-minute limit on all free accounts on Thanksgiving Day we can whatever time we want connecting safely. 

This post originally appeared on Tinkergarten.

After 18 years as an educator, curriculum developer and school leader, Meghan has her dream gig—an entrepreneur/educator/mom who helps families everywhere, including hers, learn outside. Today, Meghan serves as co-founder and Chief Learning Officer of Tinkergarten, the national leader in outdoor play-based learning. 

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